ABC News
November 22, 2001

DOJ Won't Identify Sept. 11 Detainees

The Justice Department has turned down a congressional request that it identify people detained as a result of the investigation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In a letter to seven lawmakers who had requested the information, Assistant Attorney General Daniel Bryant said releasing the names of those arrested by the Immigration and Naturalization Service could invade their privacy and hamper the ongoing probe. He said other requested documents were sealed by court order.

"The disclosure of the identities of individuals in INS custody and their whereabouts could adversely impact our pending criminal investigation," Bryant wrote. "Additionally, some of these individuals might choose not to cooperate with law enforcement if their identities were disclosed."

Sen. Russ Feingold D-Wis., who initiated the request to the Justice Department, described the response as "less than satisfactory." In a written statement, Feingold said, "At a minimum, the department can and should produce a list of who is being held in connection with this investigation and why."

Secret Criminal Charges

The Justice Department response, dated Nov. 16 and released Tuesday by the office of Sen. Feingold, provides little insight into the progress being made in the inquiry into the Sept. 11 hijackings. However, it revealed that some criminal charges brought in connection with the investigation are being kept secret. "Some of the criminal complaints filed against individuals are under seal by order of the court," Bryant wrote.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has asked Attorney General John Ashcroft o appear at a hearing, expected in early December, to testify about the detainees and President Bush's decision to authorize the use of military tribunals to try terrorism suspects.

Several people questioned over the Sept. 11 attacks have been indicted on federal fraud charges for producing or procuring fake identification, stealing credit card numbers or forging checks. However, no one in this country has been publicly charged with involvement in the hijackings. Bryant's letter provides no further details about the criminal charges that are under seal.

The names of those charged with immigration violations were deleted from the documents provided to the lawmakers. The three senators and four members of Congress who made the request were also provided with "publicly-available criminal complaints," Bryant's letter said. Papers pertaining to those being held as material witnesses were withheld by court order, he said. The judge overseeing the grand jury investigating the attacks has said he intends for those records to be kept secret "forever."

A few dozen edited immigration complaints and several criminal complaints were released to the media in the first weeks of the investigation. It was not immediately clear if the information given to lawmakers went beyond that.

A similar request made by civil rights and civil liberties groups under the Freedom of Information Act has already been rejected by the FBI which cited the ongoing investigation.

On Nov. 5, the Justice Department reported that 1,182 people had been detained in connection with the Sept. 11 investigation. Because some were held on state or local charges, federal officials said they could not say precisely how many had been released and how many remained in custody. In the past two weeks, no new tally of detainees has been made public.

Copyright 2001, ABC News, Yahoo, Inc. All rights reserved.

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